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New Directors/New Films 2017
New Directors/New Films 2017

The Last of Us

An eccentric mix of documentary-like observation and head-trippy experimentalism, Tunisian director Ala Eddine Slim’s wordless feature-length debut, The Last of Us, tracks a nameless man’s odyssey into the heart of nature. The film’s opening sees the man—played by street artist Jawhar Soudani and identified in the credits as simply “young man”—and his companion (Jihed Fourti) making their way across the hazy swelter of the Sahara, and for a moment it seems as if Slim will deliver a straightforward migrant drama along the lines of Jonas Carpignano’s Mediterranea. Soon, though, the complete lack of dialogue and character names reveals the project to be something much more peculiar. By the time the man, now separated from his fellow traveler, sets out across the Mediterranean only to find himself in a mysterious forested land populated solely by a grizzly old man (Fathi Akkari) clothed in animal furs, and who may or may not be an older version of himself, the film has submitted to pure abstraction. >>

New Directors/New Films 2017

Menashe

Joshua Z. Weinstein’s feature-length directorial debut is built around the magnetic character of Menashe (Menashe Lustig), a Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn who’s trying to hold onto his son, Rieven (Ruben Niborski). Menashe, though, isn’t just trying to keep the boy out of the hands of his late wife’s brother, Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus); he’s also trying to assert a level of individuality away from the rest of his Orthodox community. He’s been a widower for about a year and, as we glean from the reluctance he displays on dates arranged by matchmakers, isn’t in a rush to get married again anytime soon. Menashe is the story of a man grappling with the possibility that the Hasidic tradition that requires his son to be raised in a household with both a mother and a father may not square with the life he wishes to live. His rebellion is evident in his refusal to wear the hat and jacket required by his faith, but it’s most ardently felt in his desperate desire to not raise Rieven in an environment as loveless as the arranged marriage that led to the boy’s birth. >>

New Directors/New Films 2017

My Happy Family

Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross’s My Happy Family navigates the aftershocks of a breach of a society’s restrictive codes of female conduct when 52-year-old Manana (Ia Shugliashvili) moves out of the cramped house she shares with her large family. Her refusal, perhaps even inability, to explain or justify her abrupt decision to leave vexes and frustrates her friends and family, especially given that she insists that her husband, Soso (Merab Ninindze), neither abused nor cheated on her. Rather than focus on the reasons for Manana’s departure, the film homes in on how everyone’s imperious reactions to her choice are rooted in deeply sexist expectations of maternal sacrifice and a wife’s undying subservience to her husband. >>

New Directors/New Films 2017

Patti Cake$

Making someone who looks like Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald) the star of a film—and not a self-loathing victim but a resourceful heroine with talent, self-confidence, and a handsome and supportive boyfriend—is a gutsy opening move in our fat-shaming world. Even more provocative is how Patti’s defiant rhymes, which Macdonald spits with gutsy brio, draw a parallel between the casual contempt Patti encounters daily because of her size and the racism that’s the implicit or explicit subject of the music she loves. When Patti raps about the grievances of an overweight white girl stuck in strip-mall suburbia, is she a legitimate artist stretching the boundaries of her chosen form? Or is she, as her idol, O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah), puts it after she gives him an impromptu audition, a contemptible “culture vulture” who’s trying to be something she’s not? >>

New Directors/New Films 2017

Pendular

Júlia Murat’s Pendular abounds in exquisite displays of negative space, reminding one that there’s few artistic elements as inherently appealing, visually, as a symmetrical image. The film is set in a sprawling, largely abandoned industrial complex that serves as a loft and an artists’ colony—an enormous structure that’s principally populated by two people, a dancer, Alice (Raquel Karro), and an unnamed sculptor (Rodrigo Bolzan). Alice and the sculptor are in a romantic relationship, and she’s recently moved into the building. At the beginning of the film, the couple tapes off portions of the primary loft, demarcating “his” and “her” sections for their individual work. They play with one another and soon retire to their respective half of the space, each isolated and puzzled. In this instance, the vast emptiness of the setting serves a pronounced metaphorical purpose, signaling that the relationship between these intensely insular artists is doomed. >>

New Directors/New Films 2017

Person to Person

Dustin Guy Defa’s Person to Person started as a short film by the same name, a pungently detailed portrait of a certain slice of pre-gentrified New York in which Bene Coopersmith played more or less himself as a quietly charismatic Brooklyn record-store owner. The feature film is a collection of interwoven, sometimes overlapping character studies that encompass a wider swath of characters and locations with varying degrees of success. >>

New Directors/New Films 2017

Quest

Jonathan Olshefski’s Quest follows an African-American family in North Philadelphia over a pivotal course of American history: from 2008, when Barack Obama first ran for president of the United States, until the presidential election last autumn, capturing, in the process, a microcosm of the country as its hopeful mood curdled. Late in the documentary, we see the Rainey matriarch, Christine’a, watching Donald J. Trump’s plea for blacks to vote for him, asking, “What the hell have you got to lose?” By this point, Olshefski has taken us so deep into this family’s world that the entitled ignorance of Trump’s boast stings with newfound universality. >>

New Directors/New Films 2017

Sexy Durga

Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Sexy Durga generates a steady thrum of dread that builds to cringe-inducing levels as it follows a couple, Durga (Rajshri Deshpande) and Kabeer (Kannan Nayar), over the course of a night in the southern Indian state of Kerali. Though their body language and occasional urgent exchanges speak to the tender intimacy between the two, their minimal dialogue tells us almost nothing about them except that she’s a Hindi-speaking northern Indian, he’s from Kerali, and they’re trying to hitch a ride to a railroad station so they can catch a train north. This pointed lack of detail makes the story of one couple’s journey gone horribly awry feel universal, an allegory about the violent misogyny that plagues India. >>

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